With impassioned praise of young teammates, Zdeno Chara shows he's leader Kyrie Irving failed to be

Alex Reimer
May 21, 2019 - 2:43 pm

While leadership is intangible, Zdeno Chara personified the quality in just a few sentences Monday. When asked about the age discrepancy on the Bruins –– Chara is 42, whereas defenseman Charlie McAvoy is half of his age –– Boston’s captain emphasized the importance of respect between teammates in the locker room, regardless of their career accomplishments. 

Anybody else wondering whether Chara can carve out some time to speak with Kyrie Irving between now and July 1?

“Age doesn’t separate the conversations or personalities. I’ve been saying that for a long time,” Chara told reporters at his locker. “We are treating everyone the same way no matter if they’re 18 or 40, if someone has 1,000 games or are playing in their first game.

“From a young age, I didn’t like the separation between old and young players. I don’t like to use the word ‘rookie.’ They’re our teammate. I just don’t like to separate — I don’t think  that’s the right thing to do.”

Chara’s words stand in stark contrast to some of Irving’s public comments this season, particularly in mid-January, when he called out his younger teammates for supposedly not understanding how to win following a disappointing loss to the Magic.

“The young guys don’t know what it takes to be a championship level team,” Irving said at the time, per Bleacher Report. “What it takes every day. And if they think it is hard now, what do they think it will be like when we’re trying to get to the Finals?”

A few days later, Irving also revealed he called LeBron James to make amends and apologize for how selfishly he had acted as a younger player. The insinuation was more obvious than President Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice. 

The Celtics didn’t receive an opportunity to reach the Finals, of course, largely due to Irving’s 23-for-85 performance from the floor in their four straight losses to Milwaukee. Irving continued to assert his locker room dominance during the fatal losing skid, declaring he should shoot even more.

It sounds like a cliche, but throughout the season, the Celtics played like a bunch of individuals. In the words of longtime play-by-play voice Mike Gorman, they often acted as if they had just met on the bus.

The Bruins, meanwhile, overcame adversity all season long, and now they’re in the Stanley Cup Finals. Judging by Chara’s commentary, it’s easy to see who sets the tone.

Big Z may have lost a step on the ice, but his impact appears to stretch well beyond his play. Winning in sports is not solely about talent.